Roy Langford - Article No.27 (09/12/2013)

After my last athletic meeting at the Worcestershire County Championships on the 3rd June 1961, the Stourbridge and Wordsley District Track League would have started up with at least 3 of those meeting out of 5 already have taken place at various venues, but unfortunately I haven't got those all important results, but I suppose in any case I didn't expect to be writing about those particular events 45 years later. I just thought all my sporting memories would just die with me locked away inside my mind, but I'm so glad I've had the opportunity to recall some of those great sporting memories and have them published in the 'Bugle' and I think I have surpassed even my greatest expectations in writing these stories, with I hope many more to come in future editions of the great newspaper.

Internal Co-operative Day Celebration Athletic Meeting, Botley Road Sports Ground, Oxford - Saturday 1st July 1961

My next big athletic meeting would take me farther afield to Oxfordshire to compete at one of their local meetings at the Botley Road Sports Ground, Oxford on Saturday 1st July 1961, and I would once again be the only Tipton sprinter to venture into this unknown territory because Andy Fereday had unwittingly failed to send in his entry form on time for this handicap meeting, while John Brimble was bogged down with his job as salesman at 'Montague Burtons' the tailors on the corner of Hall Street, Dudley, his Saturdays off from work were few and far between.

But even without the company of Andy and John making this memorable trip, there was those on a coach load of dedicated Tipton Harriers, friends, wives and supporters who boarded that coach early on that Saturday morning outside the club house in Sedgley Road East, Tipton at 11.30 am for the 80 mile journey to Oxford and little did I know when stepping on board that coach, what fate had in store for me, because it would become one of the greatest afternoon's of my athletic career 'yet again an afternoon in which everything went right for me.

The journey took roughly 1½ hours, which left us with plenty of time to get adjusted to our surroundings and then check in with the race handicap stewards and collect our vest numbers, today I was allotted with number 51, and was entered for 3 events the Men's 100 yds, 220 yds, and 440 yds open handicap races spread across the afternoon's athletic fixtures with the 440 yards final being the last event of the afternoon at 5.05 pm. I was in for a very busy afternoon's athletics, I must be a glutton for punishment, and the meeting got underway at 2.30 pm with my opening event the Men's 100 yards Open Handicap Race.

The Meeting gets underway at 2.30 pm

In the absence of my usual training mates, I was joined in my war up session for the 100 yards race by fellow Tipton Harrier Tony Phillips, who was preparing for his race the 880 yards handicap, which was due to take place soon after my race, and I was glad of some company to settle my nerves, because my opening 100 yards race, which at tone point was meant to be a two heat race, but with only 8 runners reporting in on time to compete in this event, it was unanimously agreed by track officials to run the race as a final which suited me fine, it would cut down my race load for the afternoon.

My set handicap mark for today's 100 yards race was 6¾ yards, and it was on this mark I settled into my starting blocks, there was no messing about by the AAA starter Harris, as his keen officials check off our correct handicap placings, the then calls 'get set', his pistol fires sending us away to a first time start and before the halfway mark I'm already in the lead which I hold onto and sprint across the finishing line in first place an easy winner by 4 yards from my shell shocked beaten rivals, in second place was M Vaughan (Oxford University mark 8 yards, and A W Billings (RAF) in 3rd place my winning time a great 9.8 seconds, wow what a great start to open up my afternoon's athletics.

Men's 880 yards Open Handicap Race

A short while after getting my breath back, I was able to join the rest of my Tipton colleagues at track side to cheer on our mate Tony Phillips as he wound his way around the 880 yards handicap race in Heat No 1 of two heats of this very competitive two lap race, of which only the first six crossing the finish would contest the final, and gallant Tony finished third in his heat, thus booking his place in the 12 man final in 1 hours time, and in that great final Tony ran a splendid tactical race off his useful handicap mark of 76 yards to finish up in second place, beaten a couple of yards by M J Jones an RAF lad, winning time 1 minute 49.5 seconds.

Tony's performance had won him a prize to the value of £3.3 shillings.

220 Yards Heats

My next event at 3.10 pm was the 220 yards Open Handicap race, I was in Heat No 2 of 3 heats, this was another tough race for me, because I was the back marker again off 13 yards, giving my 4 opponents up to a 7 yards start, but luckily for me I had another training pal Bill Carr to help me out in my warm-up session for this race, Bill on the other had was testing himself out in the 3 miles Handicap race soon after my event.

Heat No 1 of the 220 yards was won my R A Avis (Portsmouth AC).

I contested Heat No 2 and easily won my race off 13 yards in 22.7 seconds, with A W Billings (RAF) in second place, I had won my second race of the afternoon, felt in great form mainly due to keeping my energy levels high by popping a couple of glucose tablets into my mouth from time to time during the afternoon. Heat No 3 won by A Rogers (Reading University). I'm now very much looking forward to the 220 yards final in ½ hours time.

The Oxford Co-op 10½ Mile Road Race

But before the final of the 220 yards handicap race was run, the 10½ mile road runners took centre stage for their race starting at 3.30 pm, but disappointingly the race would not start inside the sports ground, but on the forecourt of the local Co-operative Bakery building, thus out of sight of the spectators inside the sports ground, on a one lap course for the athletes to relentlessly pound the highways and byways of Oxfordshire for the next hour or so, with the race finishing up, with one lap of the athletic track.

So I never say the start of this race, with nearly 100 runners taking part, which included 12 die heart men of steel from Tipton Harriers, the lads I had travelled down to Oxford with, a roll-call of their names are: Robert Bratt, Tony Fern, Brian Boyce, Gordon Bentley, Joe Gripton, Derek Rhodes, Bill Stokes, John Shaw and Geoff Gaskin, they had before them an hour's gruelling race of blood, sweat and heartache, and to think these runners had to run 10½ miles for the first man home to pick his winning prize worth £7.7 shillings, compared to my 9.8 seconds win in the 100 yards for the same £7.7 shillings first prize, it all seems insane to me, but these great long distance runners love the crazy challenge and of course while this 10½ mile road race was in progress the general public and athletes inside the sports ground would be unaware to who was leading the race, but it was a certain fact the average person in the street, would have needed a motorbike to keep up with the pace of these top quality runners that day, because the first man home was super athlete John Tarrant (Salford Harriers) he had covered the 10½ mile race in the incredible time of 56 minutes 19.4 seconds runner up was John Heywood (Reading University). The top three placings for Tipton Harriers were:

11th Robert Bratt time 62 minutes 07 seconds

17th Brian Boyce time 63 minutes 38 seconds

19th Derek Rhodes time 65 minutes 04 seconds

All great performances.

South London Harriers won the First team prize worth £2.2 shillings, with the great Tipton trio above taking second place and sharing in the grand sum of £1.1 shillings team prize.

220 yards Handicap Final

While the 10½ mile road race was unfolding itself, I was involved in my own bit of drama by stamping my own seal of authority on my second final of the afternoon the Men's 220 yards handicap race, this race had the full attention of the large crowd assembled here basking in the warm sunshine, as the starter Mr Harris sends us away on our epic race, and I didn't let my exuberant Tipton colleagues down at track side as I blaze around the bend of the 220 yards track passing my 5 opponents with ease to record my second final win of the afternoon, beating A W Billings (RAF) by 3 yards my winning time 22.3 seconds. Wow! What a memorable day this is turning out to be and I've still got my worst event to come, the 440 yards or would it be after today, we will have to wait and see.

440 yards Heats

When I lined up for the hearts of the 440 yards handicap races, the underlying fear on my mind was that the 10½ miles road runners would soon be entering the sports ground, and I wanted the 3 heats of this event over and done with as soon as possible, so I could relax for ½ an hour and watch and cheer home those long distance runners across the finishing line, and it was with those thoughts occupying my mind I missed pencilling in the results of the first two 440 yards heats, with 3 runners going through from each race, but never mine, because I was in good enough form to streak home in first place in Heat No 3 race, without expending to much energy beating A W Billings (RAF) (handicap mark 42 yards) easily by 6 yards, so I had booked my place into the 9 man final T 5.50 pm. It was at this point, I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn't all a dream, because I had just waltzes into my third great final of the afternoon.

My 440 yards Landmark Win

With the clock now having ticked down to 5.05 pm I had to settle my mind on the race ahead of me, to face 8 fit young athletes taking up their nervous set stances on their various handicap marks on the first bend of the 440 yards handicap race, I was back marker but one off 34 yards in this final, but it somehow didn't seem to phase me, because my confidence was so sky high (could it have been those glucose tablets again, I hadn't long taken!) and I almost believed I could run on water and not sink, the way my sprinting form was this afternoon. My wandering thoughts are brought to an abrupt halt as the starter Mr A Harris calls out, 'Get Set On Your Marks' within a split second his pistol fires and I'm on my way to my ultimate test of the afternoon, and also somewhat befitting this was the last race of the athletic meeting, and with my Tipton colleagues almost going wild cheering me on form track side, I ran like an unleashed greyhound around the track, coasting to an easy victory by about 5 yards from R J Pinkerton (Oxford City AC) with M J Jones (RAF) in third place – I had completed a brilliant hat trick of wins, and for one in my career run a perfect 440 yards race, my winning time was 48 seconds dead. I now know how Jack Cole of Halesowen AC felt a few weeks ago when he pulled off a great treble at the Worcestershire County Championships, so I suppose my hard winter's training had in some respects paid off today, in more ways than one because I had won £22.1 shillings worth of prizes, these Co-op sports had really paid me out good dividends today, but my prizes were non-negotiable. I had won a set of suitcases for the 100 yards, a candlewick bedspread for the 220 yards and a travelling alarm clock encased in a red leather case for the 440 yards.

Arriving back at the Tipton club house late on the evening, tired and worn out, I was glad to accept a welcome lift home with my prizes by Dave Denton in which I believe was an Austin A40 car, and so ended another exciting day in the life of Tipton Harrier Roy Langford.